Are travelers overloaded by social media?

Mary Gallagher recently received an e-mail from the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau offering “hot deals.” But there was a catch: In order to receive them, she had to follow Tucson’s tourist authority on Twitter and friend it on Facebook.

That didn’t sit well with Gallagher, a travel writer, who said she receives enough deals each day.

“How much Facebook and Twitter drivel could you spend each day reading?” she said. “This really, really annoys me.”

Are travelers overloaded by social media? It’s a timely question, given the release of “The Social Network,” which topped the box office for several weeks in October, is about the origin of Facebook, the most successful social network on the planet.

Travel is a huge component of social networking, propelling applications like Where I’ve Been — a website that allows users to mark their travel history on a color-coded map — to stardom.

“It can get to the point where it’s too much,” said Brian Ek, who oversees some of Priceline’s social media efforts. Which is to say, somewhere along the line, the travel experience isn’t meaningfully enhanced by having more friends or followers.
“I’m not sure if, as a traveler, you have to participate in a social network in order to have a good trip,” he said.

But where’s the line? Gallagher saw it when Tucson e-mailed her. She replied to the sender, complaining that social networking deals exclude travelers who don’t participate in these newer networks. She also asked that her name be deleted from Tucson’s distribution list.
Related: See the world through your smart phone

A 2010 YPartnership survey suggests most travelers are probably still looking for the line. Results show that 91 percent of respondents use Facebook, about a quarter use MySpace, and 17 percent are on Twitter. But the research also notes that only 1 in 20 leisure travelers has ever made a travel decision based primarily on research or feedback received from a social networking site.

A recent University of Maryland study found that American college students are addicted to social media. In fact, being away from social media was like a withdrawal, similar to the kind experienced by an alcoholic. One of the researchers, Susan Moeller, described some of the subjects as “incredibly addicted.”

A recent survey of frequent travelers by Egnyte, an information technology company, found that 53 percent of people admit to using their smart phone when in a hotel bathroom.

When the line between reality and virtual reality start to blur, you could be in trouble. “You lose track with whether or not you’ve spoken with someone or whether you’ve seen something on Twitter or Facebook,” said Chris McGinnins, a travel blogger with an active social network. McGinnis said older travelers, who can remember a time before social networking, might find something wrong with this behavior when it’s pointed out to them. But younger travelers think nothing of it. And that worries him.
And who said you can never have too many friends? Many travel companies, including media-savvy JetBlue, have initiatives aimed at boosting networks simply for the sake of having the highest profile. JetBlue (1.5 million Twitter followers) recently gave away 25,000 frequent flier miles to random followers.

On the flip side, there are individual travelers who are in the business of collecting friends and followers, too. Experts would diagnose this kind of compulsive behavior as an addiction if it involved anything else.

If you’re obsessively collecting new followers, can’t bear to be apart from your cell phone and often confuse what’s happening on your social network with reality, you, like Gallagher, have found the line.

(Photo: B. Hernández/Flickr Creative Commons)


“It’s extremely difficult to craft the right response to avoid ending up in the fray”

Let’s turn the tables and take a look at customer service from the other side. I recently received a request for help from the unlikeliest of places: the general counsel for a fast-food chain. She wanted to know how to handle the increasing number of complaints that were emerging through social media.

By way of full disclosure, the On Your Side wiki has begun posting the Twitter accounts of corporations, since it’s often a highly effective way of making first contact with a company.

I wanted to share a few excerpts from our correspondence, since I think they are instructive for those of us pondering a social-media grievance.
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6 ways to leverage social media for a better vacation

socialBefore the latest social media revolution, Jessica Gottlieb would have probably watched helplessly when her kids, Jane and Alexander, were trapped on the tarmac, waiting for their Virgin America flight to take off.

But that’s so 2008. When it happened to her last week, the Los Angeles-based blogger reached for her iPhone and twittered about her troubles. “Dear Virgin Air,” she wrote. “My children have been on the tarmac for one hour with 90 more minutes to wait. I am at JFK gate b25. Pls RT.”
Continue reading…


What happens when a million iPhone 3Gs units hit the road?

You get this: Video uploads to YouTube from mobile phones jumped 400 percent in a week. The mobile video revolution has begun. And no one will be more affected than travelers.

133988-iphone3gAllow me an “I-told-you-so” moment. A few weeks ago, I predicted the new iPhone would mark a turning point in the way we get our information about travel and the way we share our travel experiences. But in order to do that, video use on the iPhone would first have to become ubiquitous. With a million iPhones sold in the first week, and YouTube being overloaded with iPhone-generated clips, I’d say we’re well on our way.

I bought an iPhone last week and took it through the paces, and I’m impressed by what I found. And I mean that in both ways: positively and negatively.

First, the cost. Although the new iPhone’s margins seem thin — it costs $179 to build and sells for $199, a profit of just $20 — Apple charged me far more to upgrade from my iPhone 3G. By the time I had paid all the extra fees, I was looking at close to $500. That’s ridiculous. It turns out that AT&T, the wireless network on which the iPhone runs in the United States, refuses to subsidize the new handsets.

I think the final barrier to the video revolution won’t be technology, but corporate greed. When the iPhone can run on any network — indeed, when a device with the same functionality of the iPhone is available without any of the restrictions Apple currently imposes on this gadget — then there’s no stopping this migration to video.

I’m disappointed that the 3Gs can only shoot standard definition video. But wait! It can shoot HD, according to those who have peeked under the hood. But HD has been disabled, presumably to spare the iPhone’s battery. Please!

But that’s where my disappointment ends. Shooting video on iPhone is as easy as taking picture. You have to remember to hold the phone correctly — horizontally, not vertically — otherwise the image is clipped when you try to edit it. Another caveat: Watch your fingers. On several occasions, I obscured the tiny lens, rendering the video unusable.

Image stabilization is as good as any I’ve experienced on a conventional video camera. The sound quality is decent enough for a video postcard and works well with the VGA-resolution video.

Here’s a little clip I shot this weekend of our trip to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, Fla.

The rudimentary built-in editing features allow you to shorten a clip and then post it to YouTube. If you want more, you’ll have to switch to iMovie, Final Cut, or another video editor.

And that brings me to importing. For now, iPhoto is the best way to pull the clips on to your computer. My iTunes player all but ignores the video I take, which is really annoying. I’m sure a fix is imminent.

What’s really needed is better program for importing, editing and compressing video and then exporting it to YouTube or one of the other video sites I discussed in my last post. Apple also needs to figure out how to make the iPhone zoom, and it needs to make it easier to attach this new camera to a tripod.

Patience, my friends. I’m sure all of those features are on the way.


Where do you post all those soon-to-be viral vacation videos? Click here to upload

Good thing YouTube isn’t losing as much money as everyone thought, because when it comes to posting your vacation videos online, you probably don’t want to waste your time anywhere else. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Of course there are other sites where you could upload your travel clips. There’s Flickr, run by Yahoo. And Vimeo, which specializes in smooth, high-definition video. And scores of smaller sites that I won’t even bother mentioning, not so much because I don’t want to confuse you, but because I don’t want to confuse myself.

I love YouTube. I also hate it. I’ll get to the reasons in second. First, though, let’s have a look at the other two contenders.

Flickr is primarily a photo-sharing site. I post all of my pictures to my Flickr account, which allows me to share snapshots with friends, groups and even do some limited editing. About a year ago, Flickr allowed you to upload videos — much to the horror of some resident professional photographers, who were dead-set against the idea of video soiling their corner of social media AstroTurf. Since these probably were the same people who swore they would never shoot anything but film back in the mid-90s, you can’t take their protest too seriously.

Flickr is extremely forgiving, when it comes to the type of video it accepts. It allowed me to upload virtually any format and displayed it correctly without any letterboxing or otherwise screwing with anamorphic ratios. For someone who has spent many hours resubmitting my clips to Final Cut’s Compressor application, in a futile effort to make it look right online, I can safely say this is Flickr’s best quality.

Its worst? You’re limited to just 90 seconds. So you have to be brief.

On the other hand, no site handles video in a more sophisticated way than Vimeo. Loading your clips is a cinch. Vimeo plays high-definition videos with astounding clarity, and without the dropped frames you see on other services. (Dropped frames are basically when your video stutters and jumps around, and it makes all your hard work look like something shot on a disposable camera.) There are a number of really innovative networking features, but unless you have $59 to spend on Vimeo Plus, you probably don’t want to bother. You’re bound to run up against space limits on the free version, may upload only one HD video a week, and aren’t allowed to embed your own videos on your site — unless you’re willing to pay.

And why pay for something that you can get for free?

All of which brings me to YouTube.

I wish this Google-owned site were as easy and fun to use as Vimeo, but it gets my recommendation only because its free, and it works. Not always, but most of the time. In a previous column, I described my frustration with how YouTube handled aspect ratios on the Canon Vixia HFS10. Well, I finally figured out how to get rid of that annoying black border I was griping about. Load everything into YouTube as a 1920-by-1080 video, and suddenly, it’s gone.

While researching this problem, I discovered this hurdle had been encountered, and overcome, by a couple of people who weren’t content to live with the letterboxing, but that they kept the answer to themselves because they apparently didn’t want to share. Something about YouTube’s secret sauce. Not good.

Despite all of its faults, YouTube has become the de-facto standard for video online — a kind of MS-DOS of the moving image. This is both comforting and distressing. It’s comforting, because you know everyone else is trying to work with this imperfect technology. And it’s distressing because, well — it’s imperfect.


Grandmother arrested after refusing to delete JetBlue fight video

Marilyn Parver filmed an altercation between two passengers on a recent JetBlue flight. When she refused to delete the footage from her video camera, she says the airline threatened to blacklist her and accused her of interfering with a flight crew, which is a federal crime.

You can read the account of Parver’s flight and subsequent arrest here. And look for Parver on ABC’s Good Morning America, along with the incriminating footage.

Parver contacted me yesterday to, as she put it, “get the word out.”

I am a 56-year-old grandmother who has never had so much as a speeding ticket. But on July 26th, I was taken by armed officers, in handcuffs, off JetBlue flight 195 for refusing to delete a video I had taken of a minor altercation between passengers over a screaming kid.

The flight crew made up a charge of interfering with the crew. My recording proves I did nothing wrong. I never even stood up. I was left with the threat that I will never be able to fly on JetBlue, that I will go on the no-fly list, and have a report written about me filed with the FAA.

I only refused to delete a legal short video. This is a complete misuse of power and what happened to me could happen to anyone.

I’m not a lawyer, but I can’t find any rules that would prohibit a paying passenger from filming the interior of a JetBlue aircraft or of any commercial plane. Parver said she phoned JetBlue later, and that a representative told her she could tape whatever she wanted.

My reading of the law — and again, I’m no expert — suggests the JetBlue flight crew overstepped its boundaries. In a big way.

I asked Parver if she would consider posting her footage to the Web so that we could see what the fuss was about. She said the JetBlue crew specifically told her they didn’t want the material posted on YouTube, which is why they were so insistent that she delete the videotape.

Instead, Parver is taking her case to ABC News, where its legal department can fend off any attack from JetBlue. I think that’s probably a smart move. YouTube might delete the footage, anyway.

This case underscores the travel industry’s sensitivity to the growing influence of social media, and particularly to viral videos. Makes me wonder how many other passengers have been asked to delete images that were not flattering to an airline.

Update (12/2/10): Parver has sued JetBlue.